The Millions

Who Is Greek?

1.
Last week, Greeks and people of Greek descent around the world commemorated the events of October 28, 1940, a day not remembered as a revolution or victory, but a day of saying no—literally. Called “Oxi Day,” the holiday memorializes the fateful moment when Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas curtly said “No” to Mussolini’s plans to invade Greece.

In saying no, Metaxas sent his country to war with Fascist Italy, whose army underestimated the tiny but furious Greek military. The Greeks, exhaustion and embittered by recent defeat, rallied and soon astounded the world and routed the Italians back to Albania—a blow that dealt the Axis its first defeat of World War II. Astonished and inspired, the Allied leaders poured forth encomiums on the Greeks, with Winston Churchill famously saying that henceforth, “We will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks!”

Fiercely proud of this day (and of Churchill’s quote in particular), Greeks around the world hold parades and other formal events. For the first time, this year in Athens an Afghan immigrant was supposed to carry the flag at the front of the Athenian parade—a symbol of the sea change to Greek demography after years of global instability and subsequent waves of migration. However, at the last minute, he was asked to carry the school’s sign, rather than the flag, and most recently, there have been reports that his home was attacked. What should have been a cause to celebrate the Greekest of Greek things—of voyaging out and coming back and going again—has now become an occasion to examine the way the borders of Greekness

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